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September 8th, 2008
Segment One from Full Episode
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  • The European Union and China graduate more scientists and engineers every year than the United States.
  • In 1995, the United States was #1 in the world in college graduation rate. In 2005, it was 15th.
  • U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science out of 30 developed countries.



  • Lisa F.

    This clip was eye-opening to realize just how ’sheltered’ our children are. I think the questions brought up in this segment tie in with the ‘testing’ segment of this special very well; are we focusing on the right disciplines and metrics to create competitive and sustainable youth?

  • Eric W.

    To me, contemporary American culture is the one to blame.

    Without addressing the source, all money put into education is wasted. After all, an education system reflects the values of a society, just like a chosen leader reflects the image of a typical citizen.

    When everything is considered as a right rather than a privilege, everyone thinks he deserves the whole world without struggling and everyone is special for just being able to breathe, why would anyone study for his future, fight for his rights or pursuing the meaning of life?

    When told/taught/educated that all routes in life lead to success, most human beings would choose the shortest and the easiest one.

    Each child is unique but not “special”. Freedom and other human rights are privileges fortified by blood and lives of generations; they are not coupons for laziness. You don’t deserve anything unless you’ve worked for it. Everyone should learn to ask”what’s wrong with myself” rather than “What’s wrong with the others”.

    On one side, most people get headaches by just thinking about using their brains. On the other side, understanding that dumb people are easy to govern, manipulate and exploit, some politicians are very happy to maintain the status quo. A perfect feedback cycle. Unfortunately, even with the current crises(economic, environmental and educational) in America,no one on the political stage, left or right, asks “What is wrong with the American culture?”

    The solution to the problems in education is exactly the same as the solution to keep America strong in the 21st century: realize the imperfection nature of ourselves, then put 100% effort into improving ourselves.

  • mel sims

    i will use this in my classroom

  • Scott S

    What an awesome opportunity for changes to occur in education in the United States. The election that is coming up encourages the focus on educational issues and candidates are expressing their ideas on making education better.

    A bigger plus is to be able look at educational standards, methodologies, facilities, etc. of other countries and cultures. Then take the ideas and principles from those countries as well as ideas and insights from here in the United States; have a committee of equal representation; created a successful education model for education in the United States to use and, who knows, it might set a standard for the whole world.

    The world can only benefit with what could happen.

  • jPhill Meiman

    It was a very well done report. Lots to think about. There were statistics posted at the beginning of each segment, that I could not find on the web site. Can you post them, or tell me where to find them? Thanks.

  • Simon

    12 years ago I came to the States for college as a foreign student. My college department was ranked 2nd to 4th in the nation, depending on the ranking body. I had a similar academic experience as the Finnish student: the classes here felt incredibly easy, and my classmates so uninformed about math, sciences, and the rest of the world.

    I agree with Eric W.; the American culture, specifically its anti-intellectual sub-culture is to blame. It’s easy to blame under-performing students on the failing school systems, but I eventually realized the problem is much deeper than schools. Read the Pew poll that ask American adults basic questions like how old the earth is, or whether the sun goes around the earth. Or marvel at the proportion of Americans who believed that Barack Obama is *both* a muslim *and* has an America-hating pastor. If our adults don’t have a firm grasp of science or ability to spot a contradiction, it is unreasonable to expect we can teach our kids to be competitive in the world.

    Case in point: When the producers of this program point out that 74% of American students mistakenly identified English, not Chinese, as the most commonly-spoken language in the world, I believe they are quoting from the National Geographic-Roper poll: However, the poll actually asked the students to identify the most commonly-spoken *native* language. As far as I know, English *is* the most commonly spoken language in the world. These attention to details distinctions is important in science, math, geography, and many subjects, so it is a bit disappointing to see WLIW, which produced an otherwise excellent program, would let this slip by.

  • Kanako

    I’ve been studying at the master’s degree in the university in Finland and noticing that the questions asked in the classrooms are so different from the ones asked in Japan. Assuming that the assignment is fully understood, students are asked for their own conclusion, not just the opinions.
    In the beginning I felt not easy to get the full score (5), and asked the teacher how they assess the essays. The answer was like this “It’s very simple. If you perform your understanding of the course content, you get 3. If you have your own opinion on top of the understanding, you get 4, and if you have your own conclusion, you get 5″. This way, students are trained to build up their skill to think.

  • Jean

    I work at an American university and work with many of the bright students who apply for Fulbright scholarships. This eases me into thinking, “We’re doing o.k.” And then I meet my niece’s high school friends. It’s odd. It’s like they aspire to be like Paris Hilton and the rest of the glamorous celebrities, who, let’s face it, act pretty “dumb.” What predicts which path American kids will choose? Parents? Teachers? Guidance counselors? The kid? It’s all so very frustrating. I don’t have children yet but I suspect I’ll be very tough on them to study, study, study, get involved, intern, etc.

  • Randy H.

    Personally, I’ve seen so many instances where students are simply not challenged anymore. If they struggle and don’t put forth the effort, there is nothing that the educational system can do about that, except may keep them after school and watch over them, making sure they get everything done.

    I recently heard someone talk about a family he met in Korea. He said that the family basically did nothing but study all day for the month before they take their exams. How many parents in America care enough about their children to even ask if they have done their homework for the day? We will never compete with the world until attitudes are changed in the government, in schools, and in the home.

  • Jennifer S.

    Parents who value education will raise children who also value education. Until all students are raised in a family environment where education is priority there will be little change. Instead, we are lowering standards; teachers are being told to just pass kids so that the school will pass federal scrutiny and keep their funding by making parents happy. What individuals have learned or how prepared they are for the real world is not the measure of an education. I am an urban, high school science teacher who is expected to lower my standards, expect less, and teach in a class where student enrollment has increased by 50% in the past three years. My ethical responsibility to teach is at odds with what many administrators, politicians and my parents want. It is a tough fight but I still teach, fight.

  • Sheri

    Wow, the statistics on how poorly the American learning system is discouraging. Why has the US resisted having National Standards for our schools? What are all the other developing countries using? Sounds like Finland has country-wide curriculum, and the teachers are given freedeom and flexibility within those standards. How are we as teachers, going to respond to this crisis?

  • Jill P

    As the documentary suggests, yes, we do have a problem with our students being motivated to learn math and science subjects and as a result, we are not keeping up with the international race. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there are some areas and high schools who are VERY competitive with AP and college credit classes. Former comments point out that these motivators for students getting good grades and taking accelerated courses basically comes from the home and parents or models who value education. I think some of the examples in the program go overboard in the time a student is studying. There has to be a healthy balance for outside activities as well. Living life and being involved in good activities outside of school also is an education.

  • Krista

    This program was very thought provoking, but many of the stats weren’t surprising. I teach a population that will be lucky to finish high school. Students with emotional and behavioral disorders often end up locked up, instituationalized or dead if they don’t get the help they need in those early critical years. High stakes testing has only increased the strikes against them. I don’t believe we need to place blame anywhere; just use this as an opportunity to increase awareness and a catalyst for change.

  • Camille C.

    I really don’t like it when our educational system is compared to what other countries are doing. Yes, they are different, and in many ways it seems that America can do much more to improve the education of its students. However, education is valued differently in countries such as Japan and Finland. For many of the students that I teach, school isn’t a big priority on their list, and this is encouraged by their parents. I have students who can’t do their homework because they have sports practice, dance classes, and other activities that take up a majority of their time outside of class. Now, I know that that isn’t the same for every student in America, but I think it is a problem.

  • Kevin D

    With the question focusing on the global economy, U.S. students are not ready to compete. The U.S. education system is not geared to prepare students for global impact – a bird’s eye view of U.S. school goals is merely to prepare students for h.s. graduation (with bare minimums in math, science, and language). As the documentary showed, the U.S. is producing fewer engineers, scientists, and comp. sci majors each year. Geography knowledge is minimal & seems on the decline as well. The business community is entrenched in the global economy, but u.s. education has not caught on yet – but will be forced into this reality too late.

  • Brian K.

    Hey, if you want a fascinating companion to this, check out the documentary film “2 Million Minutes” at

  • Michael J Ahles

    Thanks Judy and all for the exellent educational piece.
    Just a thought and question or two:
    Education is all about money?
    Well there’s the problem.
    What happened to truth?
    And what about equality lessons in this inequitable world, do we teach our children equality?
    Wouldn’t humanity lesson in a world made so inhumane by ourselves be more important than say geometry?
    Are there any classes that teach our children right from wrong, or is mathematics more important?
    What if our children all got an “A” in Right?
    And what about taking care of our planet as well as we must take care of ourselves, are there any lessons being taught like that?
    Why are children being taught that education is about making money, what about life?
    Is there a class on self-relience?
    Are there any classes on unity, Oneness, and what of justice, kindness, love, and what about lesson in peace?
    Why do we teach our children to war?
    Why are there soldiers in our schools?
    If we are what we are taught, and we are taught and teach our children reading, writing, and arithmatic and war, and that education is all about money and making money, no wonder we find ourselves and this planet in the greedy distructive mess we are in.
    I see the curriculum as simply the flaw, don’t you?


  • Shannon R.

    Anyone involved in education realizes that changes need to happen. Every day in the faculty lounge I hear people complaining about our educational system. The value of a show like this, is that instead of just complaining about the way things are, it challenges people to actually make changes. Yes, we will have to do things differently and yes, we will have to think differently, having different attitudes. Yes, that’s hard, but until we, as a society, make a conscience effort to shift our thinking and make some changes, we’re going to stay where we are right now.

  • John

    The book “School Math Fundamentals” clearly and simply explains the basics of math that students need to know.

  • Michael Paul Goldenberg

    You have to note well that the circumstances in Finland and Japan are dramatically different from both each other and from our own. There are very few bases for meaningful comparison. FREE college tuition for ALL qualifying in students in Finland compared with average tuition at state universities here at about $8,000 a year, for starters. Most Finns are middle class; the US has dramatic wealth and large amounts of dramatic poverty. Funding here is and has long been grossly inequitable, favoring the wealthy and seriously disadvantaging those already down. The program brought all of this out, mostly in a balanced way. But of course those whose goal is to destroy US public education in favor of giving even MORE public money to help the most affluent and least neady, as well as to help private business put its hooks further into public education, ignore all the differences that would indicate that we simply don’t have a society that is ready to commit to high quality education and opportunity for everyone.

  • Bruce Carr

    I could not agree more with Eric W. I am from Australia and discovered at the PLP face to face that our Victorian government schools charge students to use the internet they come to class with no credit. So we all agree there is a problem. What are we going to do about it. A colleague and I are going to our governing body to discuss changes to our system. Have people read about the Singapore “Teach less learn more” policy just an idea.

  • Where We Stand . Globalization – Video Report | PBS Video

    [...] first collected Added 30 Oct 08 from Flag as inappropriate or [...]

  • Lawrence Kelley

    I suggest anyone concerned or interested in learning more about competition from the Chinese educational system should also see a documentary done in early 2008 by BBC World Television, “Chinese School”:

    A video clip is posted at,

    And an official BBC web site is at

  • Cherisse Peterson

    This video maded me realize how behind America really is. Its amazing to think that some people come here and learn the english language so quickly and are top in all of their classes. To answer the question they ask in the clip, Is America ready to compete with other countries? I am pretty positve we are no where near competing with any of them. Pretty sure everyone needs to step there game up and get to studying if you ever want to be as advanced as the other counties.

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